« EelmineJätka »
the reign of Queen Anne, or some years before that period. It was then that taste was united to genius; and as, before, our writers charmed with their strength of thinking, so then they pleased with strength and grace united. In that period of British glory, though no writer attracts our attention singly, yet, like stars lost in each other's brightness, they have cast such a lustre upon the age in which they lived, that their minutest transactions will be attended to by posterity with a greater eager ness than the most important occurrences of even empires, which have been transacted in greater obscurity.
At that period there seemed to be a just balance between patronage and the press. Before it, men were little esteemed whose only merit was genius; and since, men who can prudently be content to catch the public, are certain of living without dependence. But the writers of the period of which I am speaking were sufficiently esteemed by the great, and not rewarded enough by booksellers to set them above independence. Fame consequently then was the truest road to happiness; a sedulous attention to the mechanical business of the day makes the present never-failing resource.
The age of Charles II., which our countrymen term the age of wit and immorality, produced some writers that at once served to improve our language and corrupt our hearts. The king himself had a large share of knowledge, and some wit, and his courtiers were generally men who had been brought up in the school of affliction and experience. For this reason, when the sunshine of their fortune returned, they gave too great a loose to pleasure, and language was by them cultivated only as a mode of elegance. Hence it became more enervated, and was dashed with quaintnesses, which gave the public writings of those times a very illiberal air.
L'Estrange, who was by no means so bad a writer as some have represented him, was sunk in party faction, and having generally the worst side of the argument, often had recourse to scolding, pertness, and consequently a vulgarity that discovers itself even in his more liberal compositions. He was the first writer who regularly enlisted himself under the banners of a party for pay, and fought for it through right and wrong for upwards of forty literary campaigns. This intrepidity gained him the esteem of Cromwell himself, and the papers he wrote even just before the revolution, almost with the rope about his neck, have his usual characters of impudence and perseverance. That he was a standard writer cannot be disowned, because a great many
very eminent authors formed their style by his. But his standard was far from being a just one; though, when party considerations are set aside, he certainly was possessed of elegance, ease, and perspicuity.
Dryden, though a great and undisputed genius, had the same cast as L'Estrange. Even his plays discover him to be a party man, and the same principle infects his style in subjects of the lightest nature; but the English tongue, as it stands at present, is greatly his debtor. He first gave it regular harmony, and discovered its latent powers. It was his pen that formed the Congreves, the Priors, and the Addisons, who succeeded him; and had it not been for Dryden we never should have known a Pope, at least in the meridian lustre he now displays. But Dryden's excellencies as a writer were not confined to poetry alone. There is in his prose writings an ease and elegance that have never yet been so well united in works of taste or criticism.
The English language owes very little to Otway, though next to Shakespeare the greatest genius England ever produced in tragedy. His excellencies lay in painting directly from nature, in catching every emotion just as it arises from the soul, and in all the powers of the moving and pathetic. He appears to have had no learning, no critical knowledge, and to have lived in great distress. When he died (which he did in an obscure house, the Minories), he had about him the copy of a tragedy, which, it seems, he had sold for a trifle to Bentley, the bookseller. I have seen an advertisement at the end of one of L'Estrange's political papers, offering a reward to any one who should bring it to his shop. What an invaluable treasure was there irretrievably lost by the ignorance and neglect of the age he lived in!
Lee had a great command of language, and vast force of expression, both which the best of our dramatic poets thought proper to take for their models. Rowe, in particular, seems to have caught that manner, though in all other respects inferior. The other poets of that reign contributed but little towards improving the English tongue, and it is not certain whether they did not injure rather than improve it. Immorality has its cant as well as party, and many shocking expressions now crept into the language, and became the transient fashion of the day. The upper galleries, by the prevalence of party-spirit, were courted with great assiduity, and a horse-laugh following ribaldry was the highest instance of applause, the chastity as well as energy of diction being overlooked or neglected.
Virtuous sentiment was recovered, but en
ergy of style never was. This, though disregarded in plays and party-writings, still prevailed amongst men of character and business. The despatches of Sir Richard Fanshaw, Sir William Godolphin, Lord Ar- | lington, and many other ministers of state, are all of them, with regard to diction, manly, bold, and nervous.
Sir William Temple, though a man of no learning, had great knowledge and experience. He wrote always like a man of sense and a gentleman; and his style is the model by which the best prose writers in the reign of Queen Anne formed theirs.
The beauties of Mr. Locke's style, though not so much celebrated, are as striking as that of his understanding. He never says more nor less than he ought, and never makes use of a word that he could have changed for the better. The same observation holds good of Dr. Samuel Clarke. Mr. Locke was a philosopher; his antagonist, Stillingfleet, bishop of Worcester, was a man of learning; and therefore the contest between them was unequal. The clearness of Mr. Locke's head renders his language perspicuous, the learning of Stillingfleet's clouds his. This is an instance of the superiority of good sense over learning, towards the improvement of every language.
There is nothing peculiar to the language of Archbishop Tillotson, but his manner of writing is inimitable; for one who reads him wonders why he himself did not think and speak in that very manner. The turn of his periods is agreeable, though artless, and everything he says seems to flow spontaneously from inward conviction. Barrow, though greatly his superior in learning, falls short of him in other respects.
The time seems to be at hand when justice will be done to Mr. Cowley's prose as well as poetical writings; and though his friend, Dr. Sprat, bishop of Rochester, in his diction falls far short of the abilities for which he has been celebrated, yet there is sometimes a happy flow in his periods, something that looks like eloquence.
The style of his successor, Atterbury, has been much commended by his friends, which always happens when a man distinguishes himself in party; but there is in it nothing extraordinary. Even the speech which he made for himself at the bar of the House of Lords, before he was sent into exile, is void of eloquence, though it has been cried up by his friends to such a degree that his enemies have suffered it to pass uncensured.
The philosophical manner of Lord Shaftesbury's writing is nearer to that of Cicero than any English author has yet arrived at; but perhaps had Cicero written in English his composition would have greatly ex
ceeded that of our countryman. The diction of the latter is beautiful, but such beauty as, upon nearer inspection, carries with it evident symptoms of affectation. This has been attended with very disagreeable consequences. Nothing is so easy to copy as affectation, and his lordship's rank and fame have procured him more imitators in Britain than any other writer I know; all faithfully preserving his blemishes, but unhappily not one of his beauties.
Mr. Trenchard and Dr. Davenant were political writers of great abilities in diction, and their pamphlets are now standards in that way of writing. They were followed by Dean Swift, who, though in other respects far their superior, never could arise to that manliness and clearness of diction in political writing for which they were so justly famous.
They were, all of them, exceeded by the late Lord Bolingbroke, whose strength lay in that province: for, as a philosopher and a critic, he was ill qualified, being destitute of virtue for the one, and of learning for the other. His writings against Sir Robert Walpole are incomparably the best of his works. The personal and perpetual antipathy he had for that family, to whose places he thought his own abilities had a right, gave a glow to his style, and an edge to his manner, that never yet have been equalled in political writing. His misfortunes and disappointments gave his mind a turn which his friends mistook for philosophy, and at one time of his life he had the art to impose the same belief upon some of his enemies. His Idea of a Patriot King, which I reckon (as indeed it was) amongst his writings against Sir Robert Walpole, is a masterpiece of diction. Even in his other works his style is excellent; but where a man either does not, or will not, understand the subject he writes on, there must always be a deficiency. In politics he was generally master of what he undertook,-in morals.
Mr. Addison, for a happy and natural style, will be always an honour to British literature. His diction indeed wants strength, but it is equal to all the subjects he under takes to handle, as he never (at least in his finished works) attempts anything either in the argumentative or demonstrative way.
Though Sir Richard Steele's reputation as a public writer was owing to his connexions with Mr. Addison, yet after their intimacy was formed, Steele sunk in his merit as an author. This was owing as much to the evident superiority on the part of Addison as to the unnatural efforts which Steele made to equal or eclipse him. This emulation destroyed that genuine flow of diction
which is discoverable in all his former compositions.
Whilst their writings engaged attention and the favour of the public, reiterated but unsuccessful efforts were made towards forming a grammar of the English language. The authors of those efforts went upon wrong principles. Instead of endeavouring to retrench the absurdities of our language, and bringing it to a certain criterion, their grammars were no other than a collection of rules attempting to neutralize those absurdities, and bring them under a regular system.
Somewhat effectual, however, might have been done towards fixing the standard of the English language, had it not been for the spirit of party. For both whigs and tories being ambitious to stand at the head of so great a design, the Queen's death happened before any plan of an academy could be resolved on.
Meanwhile the necessity of such an institution became every day more apparent. The periodical and political writers, who then swarmed, adopted the very worst manner of L'Estrange, till not only all decency, but all propriety of language, was lost in the nation. Leslie, a pert writer, with some wit and learning, insulted the government every week with the grossest abuse. His style and manner, both of which were illiberal, was imitated by Ridpath, De Foe, Dunton, and others of the opposite party: and Toland pleaded the cause of Atheism and immorality in much the same strain: his subject seemed to debase his diction, and he ever failed most in one when he grew most licentious in the other. Towards the end of Queen Anne's reign some of the greatest men in England devoted their time to party, and then a much better manner obtained in political writing. Mr. Walpole, Mr. Addison, Mr. Wainwaring, Mr. Steele, and many members of both houses of parliament drew their pens for the whigs; but they seem to have been over-matched, though not in argument yet in writing, by Bolingbroke, Prior, Swift, Arbuthnot, and the other friends of the opposite party. They who oppose a ministry have always a better field for ridicule and reproof than they who defend it.
sions, and no phlegmatic reserve in their command.
At present, were a man to attempt to improve his fortune, or increase his friendship, by poetry, he would soon feel the anxiety of disappointment. The press lies open, and is a benefactor to every sort of literature, but that alone. I am at a loss whether to ascribe this falling off of the public to a vicious taste in the poet, or in them. Perhaps both are to be reprehended. The poet, either drily didactive, gives us rules which might appear abstruse even in a system of ethics, or, triflingly volatile, writes upon the most unworthy subjects; content, if he can give music instead of sense; content, if he can paint to the imagination without any desires or endeavours to effect: the public, therefore, with justice discard such empty sound, which has nothing but a jingle, or, what is worse, the unmusical flow of blank verse to recommend it. The late method also, into which our newspapers have fallen, of giving an epitome of every new publication, must greatly damp the writer's genius. He finds himself in this case at the mercy of men who have neither abilities or learning to distinguish his merit. He finds his own composition mixed with the sordid trash of every daily scribble. There is a sufficient specimen given of his work to abate curiosity, and yet so mutilated as to render him contemptible. His first, and perhaps his second, work, by these means sink, among the crudities of the age, into oblivion. Fame he finds begins to turn his back: he, therefore, flies to profit which invites him, and he enrols himself in the lists of dulness and of avarice for life.
Yet there are still among us men of the greatest abilities, and who in some parts of learning have surpassed their predecessors: justice and friendship might here impel me to speak of names which will shine out to all posterity, but prudence restrains me from what. I should otherwise eagerly embrace. Envy might rise against every honoured name I should mention, since scarcely one of them has not those who are his enemies, or those who despise him, &c. The Bee.
Since that period our writers have either been encouraged above their merits or below them. Some who were possessed of the meanest abilities acquired the highest pre- one of the greatest of the sons of men, ferments, while others who seemed born to was born in Dublin, 1728 or 1730, entered reflect a lustre upon their age perished by Trinity College, Dublin, 1744, published A want and neglect. More, Savage, and Am-Vindication of Natural Society, etc., by a herst were possessed of great abilities, yet they were suffered to feel all the miseries that usually attend the ingenious and the imprudent, that attend men of strong pas
late Noble Writer (an imitation of Lord Bolingbroke), Lond., 1756, 8vo, and A Philosophical Inquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful, Lond.,
1756, 8vo; was the supposed author, or coauthor of An Account of the European Settlements in America, Lond., 1757, 2 vols. 8vo; accompanied William Gerard Hamilton to Ireland as his secretary, 1761; entered parliament in 1766, and from that time until his death, in 1797, occupied a distinguished public position, for the particulars of which we must refer to Mr. Prior and his other biographers. Of the collective editions of his Works, we notice Rivington's, Lond., 1852, 8 vols. 8vo; H. G. Bohn's, Lond., 1857, 8 vols. p. 8vo, and especially, Little, Brown & Co's., Boston, Mass., 1866, 12 vols. p. 8vo. In this edition many errors in English issues were corrected.
"Shakspeare and Burke are, if I may venture on the expression, above talent. Burke was one of the first thinkers, as well as one of the greatest orators, of his time. He is without parallel in any age or country, except perhaps Lord Bacon or Cicero: and his works contain an ampler store of political and moral wisdom than can be found in any other writer whatever."-SIR JAMES MACKIN
Mr. Speaker, I cannot prevail on myself to hurry over this great consideration. It is good for us to be here. We stand where we have an immense view of what is, and what is past. Clouds indeed, and darkness, rest upon the future. Let us, however, before we descend from this noble eminence, reflect that this growth of our national prosperity has happened within the short period of the life of man. It has happened within sixtyeight years. There are those alive whose memory might touch the two extremities. For instance, my Lord Bathurst might remember all the stages of the progress. He was in 1704 of an age at least to be made to comprehend such things. He was then old enough acta parentum jam legere, et quæ sit poterit cognoscere virtus. Suppose, Sir, that the angel of this auspicious youth, foreseeing the many virtues which made him one of the most amiable, as he is one of the most fortunate men of his age, had opened to him in vision, that when, in the fourth generation, the third prince of the House of Brunswick had sat twelve years on the throne of that nation which (by the happy issue of moderate and healing councils) was to be
made Great Britain, he should see his son, Lord Chancellor of England, turn back the current of hereditary dignity to its fountain, and raise him to an higher rank of peerage, whilst he enriched the family with a new one, if amidst these bright and happy scenes of domestic honour and prosperity, that angel should have drawn up the curtain, and unfolded the rising glories of his country, and whilst he was gazing with admiration on the then commercial grandeur of England, the genius should point out to him a little speck, scarce visible in the mass of the national interest, a small seminal principle rather than a formed body, and should tell him, "Young man, there is America,—which at this day serves for little more than to amuse you with stories of savage men and uncouth manners, yet shall, before you taste of death, show itself equal to the whole of that commerce which now attracts the envy of the world: whatever England has been growing to by a progressive increase of improvement, brought in by varieties of people, by succession of civilizing conquests and civilizing sentiments, in a series of seventeen hundred years, you shall see as much added to her by America in the course of a single life!"-if this state of his country had been foretold to him, would it not require all the sanguine credulity of youth, and all the fervid glow of enthusiasm, to make him believe it? Fortunate man, he has lived to see it! Fortunate indeed, if he lives to see nothing that shall vary the prospect, and cloud the setting of his day!... I pass, therefore, to the colonies in another point of view,-their agriculture. This they have prosecuted with such a spirit, that, besides feeding plentifully their own growing multitude, their annual export of grain, comprehending rice, has some years ago exceeded a million in value. Of their last harvest, I am persuaded, they will export much more. At the beginning of the century some of these colonies imported corn from the mother country. For some time past the old world has been fed from the new. The scarcity which you have felt would have been a desolating famine, if this child of your old age, with a true filial piety, with a Roman charity, had not put the full breast of its youthful exuberance to the mouth of its exhausted parent. As to the wealth which the colonies have drawn from the sea by their fisheries, you had all that matter fully opened at your bar. You surely thought those acquisitions of value, for they seemed even to excite your envy; and yet the spirit by which that enterprising employment has been exercised ought rather, in my opinion, to have raised your esteem and admiration. Sir, what in the world is equal to it? Pass
is much more in favour of prudent management than that of force, considering force not as an odious, but a feeble instrument for preserving a people so numerous, so active, so growing, so spirited as this, in a profitable and subordinate connection with
by the other parts, and look at the manner
Speech on Conciliation with America,
Government is not made in virtue of natural rights, which may and do exist in total independence of it,—and exist in much greater clearness, and in a much greater degree of abstract perfection: but their abstract perfection is their practical defect. By having a right to everything they want everything. Government is a contrivance of human wisdom to provide for human wants. Men have a right that these wants should be provided for by this wisdom. Among these wants is to be reckoned the want, out of civil society, of a sufficient restraint upon their passions. Society requires not only that the passions of indi
which seemed too remote and romantic an object for the grasp of national ambition, is but a stage and resting-place in the progress of their victorious industry. Nor is the equinoctial heat more discouraging to them than the accumulated winter of both the poles. We know, that, whilst some of them draw the line and strike the harpoon on the coast of Africa, others run the longitude, and pursue their gigantic game along the coast of Brazil. No sea but what is vexed by their fisheries. No climate that is not witness to their toils. Neither the perseverance of Holland, nor the activity of France, nor the dexterous and firm sagacity of English enterprise, ever carried this most peril-viduals should be subjected, but that even ous mode of hardy industry to the extent to which it has been pushed by this recent people,-a people who are still, as it were, but in the gristle, and not yet hardened into the bone of manhood. When I contemplate these things,-when I know that the colonies in general owe little or nothing to any care of ours, and that they are not squeezed into this happy form by the constraints of watchful and suspicious government, but that through a wise and salutary neglect, a generous nature has been suffered to take her own way to perfection,-when I reflect upon these effects, when I see how profitable they have been to us, I feel all the pride of power sink, and all presumption in the wisdom of human contrivances melt and die away within me,-my rigour relents, I pardon something to the spirit of liberty.
I am sensible, Sir, that all which I have asserted in my detail is admitted in the gross, but that quite a different conclusion is drawn from it. America, gentlemen say, is a noble object,—it is an object well worth fighting for. Certainly it is, if fighting a people be the best way of gaining them. Gentlemen in this respect will be led to their choice of means by their complexions and their habits. Those who understand the military art will of course have some predilection for it. Those who wield the thunder of the state may have more confidence in the efficacy of arms. But I confess, possibly for want of knowledge, my opinion
in the mass and body, as well as in the individuals, the inclinations of men should frequently be thwarted, their will controlled, and their passions be brought into subjection. This can only be done by a power out of themselves, and not, in the exercise of its function, subject to that will and to those passions which it is its office to bridle and subdue. In this sense the restraints on men. as well as their liberties, are to be reckoned among their rights. But as the liberties and the restrictions vary with times and circumstances, and admit of infinite modifications, they cannot be settled upon any abstract rule; and nothing is so foolish as to discuss them upon that principle.
The moment you abate anything from the full rights of men each to govern himself, and suffer any artificial, positive limitation upon those rights, from that moment the whole organization of government becomes a consideration of convenience. This it is which makes the constitution of a state, and the due distribution of its powers, a matter of the most delicate and complicated skill. It requires a deep knowledge of human nature and human necessities, and of the things which facilitate or obstruct the various ends which are to be pursued by the mechanism of civil institutions. The state is to have recruits to its strength and remedies to its distempers. What is the use of discussing a man's abstract right to food or medicine? The question is upon the method of procuring and administering them. In